This image shows March 25, 2010, preparations for testing for a radar that will serve during the next landing on Mars. This day's work evaluated a setup for suspending a rover mock-up beneath a helicopter at Hawthorne Municipal Airport, Hawthorne, Calif.
During the final stage of descent of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, to the surface of Mars in 2012, a rocket-powered descent stage will lower the rover on a tether directly to the ground. This rover is too big for the airbag-cushioned landing method used by the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 and Mars Exploration Rover landings in 2004.
At Mars, a radar on the descent stage will track the decreasing distance to the surface during descent. Helicopter-flown testing of the radar system for the mission includes checking whether the suspended rover might confuse the radar about the speed of descent toward the ground. This image shows mechanical testing of the system for suspending a rover mock-up for the later radar test, before the engineering test model of the landing radar was mounted onto the helicopter.
Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., provided the helicopter and flight services for the testing by a team of engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission, managed by JPL for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, is in assembly and testing for launch in autumn 2011 and delivering the rover Curiosity to Mars in summer 2012.